As far as Mercedes is concerned, their Gaggenau plant is the ‘Cradle of the Diesel Truck’. Next year it celebrates its centenary so Tachoblog thought we’d bring you this condensed history of the plant with some wonderful pictures of the trucks it’s built over the years too.
One company was looking for capital, and the other had an expansion of capacity in mind. And since both were located in the Baden region of Germany, it didn’t take long for them to come together – the Süddeutsche Automobilfabrik (SAG) in Gaggenau and the motor vehicle pioneers Benz & Cie. from Mannheim, who in 1907 signed a “consultancy agreement”.
Under the terms of this agreement, Gaggenau, in southern Baden, was to discontinue passenger car production, and instead the plant was to concentrate solely on commercial vehicles.
In Mannheim, Benz was thus able to generate capacity urgently needed for passenger car production, and the commercial vehicles side of operations benefited from the excellent reputation of the Gaggenau plant.
Now click below for more and some classic Mercedes trucks too…
At the same time, SAG founder and director Georg Wiss had managed to escape the sort of tight spot which continues to drive cooperative ventures, mergers and takeovers to this day – a shortage of capital prevented him from building up a sufficient basis of funds to ensure the success of the business. In terms of quality and innovation, the medium-sized SAG did not generate the unit volumes necessary to continue to keep pace with the large Daimler or Benz factories.
From 1907, Wiss would, for the time being, continue to manage the Süddeutsche Automobilfabrik. However, business policy was increasingly determined by Benz & Cie. in Mannheim, who had taken over SAG’s share capital, amounting to 350,000 Marks, in exchange for new Benz shares, and before long they were also influencing the appointment of managers at Gaggenau.
Following decisions made by the partners on 31 December 1910, not only was the factory renamed “Benz-Werke Gaggenau G.m.b.H.”, but new people were also appointed to the company management. From that time on, the “Benz” logo replaced the SAG trademark on the radiator grille.
Accordingly, on 1 January 1911, the SAG brand became history. Georg Wiss, who had taken over the plant only ten years beforehand and dedicated it to the manufacture of commercial vehicles, left the company. Two years later, the merger of parent company and subsidiary was complete. From then on, Gaggenau had the status of a branch of Benz & Cie.
In the 1920s, the Gaggenau plant was particularly successful, with extensive deliveries to German and foreign military fleets. It also continued to engage in pioneering work – under SAG management, it had already produced the world’s first petrol fire-fighting vehicle as well as a comprehensive range of commercial vehicles, from light-duty delivery vehicles to heavy-duty trucks with a payload capacity of six tonnes, and now it produced all kinds of special purpose vehicles and a highly regarded range of omnibuses. On 10 September 1923, the Murg Valley was the setting for the initial testing of the first diesel Benz truck, which immediately demonstrated “25 percent less fuel consumption than a gasoline engine”, a result that the engineers noted with satisfaction.
Following the merger of Benz & Cie. and Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in 1926, Gaggenau even assumed the central role of commercial vehicles production for the newly founded Daimler-Benz AG: accordingly, Gaggenau supplied all trucks and all bus chassis from that point on. The world economic crisis from 1929 and the associated severe slump had only just been overcome, however, when, from 1933, Daimler-Benz AG was once again forced to assign commercial vehicle production to several plants in the boom years that followed.
Production of smaller trucks with a payload capacity of up to three tonnes was relocated to Mannheim, omnibus bodies became the responsibility of Mannheim and Sindelfingen, and production of special purpose military vehicles was resumed in Berlin-Marienfelde.
By the end of the Second World War, production in Gaggenau had virtually come to a standstill, but it was to pick up again relatively quickly. Up until 1949, the standardised L 4500 military truck with a wooden crew cab was the strongest seller among the few models initially manufactured by the Gaggenau plant.
In these difficult times, production figures remained modest. Things started to improve in 1949, however, when the L 4500 was replaced by the much better equipped L 5000, which included a steel cab. This classic vehicle was joined by the first new post-war design, the new L 6600 heavy-duty truck, which became highly popular especially in the now re-emerging long-distance transport sector.
The first cab-over-engine truck, the LP 315, appeared on the market in 1954, and impressive export successes were recorded with the 8.5-tonne L 326, which was exclusively built for foreign markets from 1956. Completely new ground was broken in Gaggenau with the cab-over-engine LP 333, known as the “Millipede”, which was built from 1958 and, with two steered front axles, was the tailor-made response to new restrictive regulations imposed on dimensions and weights by the then German Transport Minister, Hans-Christoph Seebohm.
However, the plant was far from saying farewell to the classic “hooded” truck – quite the opposite, in fact. In 1959, Daimler-Benz launched new “rounded hood” trucks – the medium-duty versions were produced in Mannheim, and the heavy-duty versions (which remained extraordinarily successful in exports until the 1990s) in Gaggenau.
Another milestone came in 1951, when Gaggenau started production of the Unimog, an all-rounder of which as many as 1005 units were manufactured in the first year alone.
Meanwhile, Gaggenau and Mannheim were increasingly reaching the limits of production capacity, and in 1964 the decision was made to concentrate future production of all medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks at the new plant in Wörth on the river Rhine. This facility was opened in 1965, and allowed Gaggenau to specialise in Unimog production, together with axles and transmissions.
In early 2003, after more than 50 years of Unimog production, the Gaggenau plant finally handed over this branch of its work to the Wörth plant, and subsequently developed into a competence centre for manual and automatic transmissions.
Nevertheless, the plant was to retain its truck focus for some time, given that heavy-duty truck testing was based in the Gaggenau plant. In summer 2008, it too made the shift to the Wörth plant, where brand-new, state-of-the-art equipment was ready and waiting.
The outcome of all these developments is that the Gaggenau plant today is less directly involved in the truck business, and to some extent it has by default assumed the role of supplier to other plants. A century after the Benz & Cie. takeover, Gaggenau is now dedicated to the manufacture of special components such as axles, transmissions (in the Rastatt sister plant), and torque converters.
Among the most acclaimed of these are the truck planetary axles that Gaggenau has produced in the “New Generation” since their introduction in 1973, which to this day continue to drive forward Mercedes-Benz construction vehicles in particular. The Gaggenau plant has produced more than 2.5 million axles to date, and is the world’s largest manufacturer of dual planetary axles and portal axles. Concerning transmissions, Gaggenau not only is the competence center in an increasing global production ccoperation, but also the international preparation plant.
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